A specific learning disorder with impairment in reading (dyslexia) is the most common form of learning disability, accounting for 80% of all children identified. Problems with reading, and related difficulties in comprehension, spelling and writing are common for these children. Many people who have a specific learning disorder with impairment in reading (dyslexia) also experience difficulties with working memory, attention and organisational skills.
Dyslexia can be defined as:
… a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterised by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.*
When looking at identifying a specific learning disorder with impairment in reading (dyslexia), deficits in one or both of the following key academic areas are usually present:

  • Inaccurate or slow and effortful word reading (e.g. reads single words aloud incorrectly or slowly and hesitantly, frequently guesses words, has difficulty sounding out words).
  • Difficulty understanding the meaning of what is read (e.g. may read text accurately but not understand the sequence, relationships, inferences, or deeper meanings of what is read).

*This definition is the preferred definition of DSF and AUSPELD, as well as the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

Specific learning disorder in reading (dyslexia) across the school years

Children who have a specific learning disorder with impairment in reading (dyslexia) will show some or many of the difficulties listed below. They may not display all of these characteristics.

  • Difficulties with oral rhyming, syllabification, blending and segmenting of sounds in words
  • Delayed speech and language development
  • Limited spoken vocabulary
  • Poor understanding of letter-sound links
  • Difficulty in learning letter names
  • Slow and inaccurate word recognition
  • Inability to read nonsense words
  • Difficulties understanding reading material
  • Difficulties with tasks requiring reasonable working memory capacity – such as following instructions or remembering sequential information
  • Reduced ability to isolate and manipulate individual sounds in words
  • Difficulties holding verbal information (e.g. instructions) in working memory
  • Slow to complete literacy-related tasks
  • Reading is slow and laboured
  • Visually similar words are often confused when reading
  • Trouble decoding unfamiliar words
  • Poor reading comprehension
  • A lack of interest in or avoidance of reading tasks
  • Ongoing difficulties in working memory
  • Poor reading fluency
  • Reduced reading comprehension (may need to re-read material many times to comprehend)
  • Disorganisation and difficulties with planning
  • Limited working memory
  • Word finding difficulties
  • A lack of interest in or avoidance of reading tasks
  • Working memory difficulties may become more pronounced as the demands of schooling increase

In this section

Learning to read was, and still is, so difficult for me. I couldn’t understand how the other kids seemed to pick it up so easily while I struggled to read even quite simple words. I mostly guessed randomly – and just hoped I was right!
Sarah, Age 14 years

The Next Steps Screening Tool is available on the Auspeld website. This check provides an informal indication of the likelihood that the child being rated is demonstrating reading difficulties. It is designed to assist with determining whether the child would benefit from targeted intervention and/or formal assessment. The check is available at auspeld.org.au/NSST